A Review of Pi Gamma Mu's 2021 Leadership Development Program.

AuthorHanford, Bethany

Pi Gamma Mu's 2021 Triennial Convention included a Leadership Development Program for the second time, again chaired and overseen by Allison G. S. Knox. The Leadership Development Program sought to offer leadership training, foster new ways of thinking about leadership, and bring people together to discuss their own perspectives on what it means to be an effective leader. Choosing to keep such a hands-on program during a time when the convention had moved online--an unprecedented move that highlighted the honor society's adaptability during a global crisis--may at first seem like a surprising decision. After all, many may assume that to be effective, such training and workshops require a face-to-face element, a shared physicality that creates a camaraderie and emphasizes an atmosphere of learning. Yet Pi Gamma Mu's decision to continue this program during the pandemic was an unqualified success, and the program was perhaps even more successful and brought even more value as a remote program than it could have in person.

This may at first seem counterintuitive, particularly because so many people find meeting in person to bring a value of its own, but the decision to hold the entire seminar online created a wealth of opportunity that would otherwise have been lost. As we came together online and shared our perspectives and stories, it immediately became clear that we were all calling in from a myriad of different places and situations, and for many of us the opportunity to attend remotely granted access to a program that would otherwise have been out of reach. Among my peers were people joining from all over the world, from the break rooms of their organizations, from dorm rooms, and from home offices where children played in the next room.

A remote event dramatically expanded access by eliminating barriers, including the need to budget for travel accommodations, purchase plane tickets, find coverage at work, and secure childcare. Like many in the program, I could not have attended and would have been excluded from this wonderful learning opportunity if it had been restricted only to those who were able to attend in person. Decisions like these create a culture of inclusivity and allow full participation from people who might otherwise face financial or logistical barriers.

Like many people attending a workshop for the first time under unique circumstances, I was not fully certain what to expect when I logged on to join my peers, and to meet the facilitators who would help us process the lectures and share our perspectives. The first thing we were asked to do was turn on our cameras, which initially surprised me, as we were such a large group that I assumed we would be relying on audio only for bandwidth reasons. However, seeing everyone at once, all of us logging in from different places at different times of day, from a variety of time zones and in various settings, was a powerful thing. We had all made the choice to come here, we had all prioritized this moment, and we were all ready to open our minds to new ways of conceptualizing leadership.

Video conferencing can be stressful in a way that in-person meetings are not, in part because we see everyone's faces simultaneously, and everyone else can see ours. In an in-person meeting, there is a limit to what your eyes can take in. We may glance around and make occasional eye contact, but no one is watching one another all the time, and in a setting where a facilitator is presenting, most eyes will naturally be on the presentation. In an online setting, however, it is impossible to see who is watching who, with all faces looking forward, and your own eyes always staring back.

The workshop struck the right balance precisely because it embraced flexibility. While we were asked to turn our cameras on to meet one another in that first session, they were not required in subsequent sessions, and though cameras were encouraged during our breakout groups for discussion, there was no obligation to enable them. Though requiring constant camera use during the entire week of sessions would have been too draining and...

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